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Three-peat: Polson wins state softball championship ... again

FRENCHTOWN — Winning a state championship is a big deal, and winning two years in a row, even bigger. But how does one describe winning three years in a row?

“That’s almost unreal,” Polson softball coach Larry Smith said.

His Lady Pirates triumphed over Belgrade in a state championship matchup postponed until Monday, May 28, due to bad weather in Anaconda, and moved to Frenchtown.

“It’s tough to win one and to win back to back, and then a three-peat — that’s amazing to me,” Smith said.

It’s not easy being two-time defending state champions; everyone expects you to win, Smith explained. But he credited his girls with handling the pressure gracefully and dominating the state tournament. Polson is the first team in 19 years to three-peat in State A softball and only the second team ever to claim three straight state championships, and as Smith noted, the sky’s the limit.

“Our future’s looking bright,” he said.

Success breeds success, and Lady Pirate softball is no exception — the more championships the team wins, the more local girls want to play softball, Smith explained. That, coupled with a strong field of younger athletes on the roster, is why he’s not worried about losing four seniors. Ashley Johnson, Makaliah Wilson, Colleen Jacobson and Riley Kenney capped off their senior year in championship form, and while they’ll be missed, Smith is confident he’ll have plenty of younger girls stepping up as team leaders next year. And with another year of pitching from Shalaina Duford, who has three state titles under her belt heading into her senior year, the Lady Pirates certainly have what it takes to stay on top.

This year’s victory was made even sweeter by the fight the Polson girls had to put up to land in the championship game. The team struggled early on, and it was the first season in years that the Lady Pirates had to worry about making it to State.

“From early on in the season, they had their backs against the wall … that made (the win) more satisfactory,” Smith said.

The fight continued throughout last week’s matchup with Belgrade, a team that clawed its way out of the losers’ bracket to face Polson for the title. The teams were neck-and-neck until the sixth inning, when Polson racked up six runs on five hits.

“The girls just responded with a big bang,” Smith said.

Belgrade never recovered from that inning, and Polson won, 8-3.

SUMMARY

Polson 8, Belgrade 3
Belgrade 200 000 1 – 3 6 5
Polson 200 006 x – 8 11 2
Justine Taylor and Annie Prickett. Shalaina Duford and Jaylin Kenney. W – Duford. L – Taylor. POLSON – Ashley Johnson 1-4, Riley Kenney 2-4, Duford 1-4, Heidi Rausch 2-4, Jessica Bagnell 2-4, J. Kenney 2-4, Tina Marquardt 1-4, Makaliah Wilson 0-4, Sarah Rausch 0-2, Jaiden Toth 0-1.
2B – Bagnell. HR – Rausch. RBIs – Rausch 2, Bagnell 2, Marquardt.

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